The founder and former CEO of Celerity Educational Group, a Koreatown-based nonprofit company that owned and operated charter schools, agreed Friday to plead guilty to a federal conspiracy charge for misappropriating about $2.5 million in public-education funds.
In a plea agreement filed in Los Angeles federal court, Vielka Maritza McFarlane, 56, of Sylmar, agreed to plead guilty at a later date to one count of conspiracy to misappropriate and embezzle public funds, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
McFarlane admitted in the document that she used the money to pay for personal expenses, including first-class air travel, fine dining and luxury goods, but the bulk of the misappropriated funds were used to purchase a building for another charter school in Ohio, federal prosecutors said.
McFarlane, who is scheduled to make her initial court appearance in downtown Los Angeles on Jan. 7, founded Celerity Educational Group in 2004 and served as its CEO until April 2015.
Between April 2012 and April 2017, McFarlane also was CEO of Celerity Global Development, a nonprofit California corporation, which provided various management services to the Celerity charter schools in exchange for a percentage of the schools’ revenues.
According to her plea agreement, from July 2009 to April 2017, McFarlane and her co-conspirators caused the Celerity charter schools and Celerity Educational Group to falsely certify to federal, state and local authorities that they were complying with all rules and regulations governing the use of public funds that they received.
McFarlane admitted in the document that she used public funds — money that should have been spent on educational purposes at Celerity charter schools in Los Angeles, Compton and Pasadena — for a variety of personal expenses and improper expenditures.
“When anyone repurposes public school funds for self-serving reasons, students suffer,” said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison. “This case involving the former CEO of Celerity demonstrates our ongoing efforts to protect and safeguard public funds, and to hold accountable those who improperly use those funds for their own gain.”
Once McFarlane pleads guilty, she will face up to five years in federal prison for the conspiracy charge, according to prosecutors.
In June 2017, the U.S. Attorney’s Office entered into a Non-Prosecution Agreement with Celerity Educational Group, now known as ISANA Academies, in which ISANA recognized and acknowledged the misconduct committed by McFarlane, agreed to cooperate fully with the government’s investigation, and agreed to implement certain reforms designed to ensure that similar conduct does not occur again.
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